Why Are There Still Diversity Issues in Games?
The games industry is sorely lacking in diversity. Despite studios employing over 260,000 people in the United States alone, roughly 74% of the total workforce is male, and 64% of the total workforce is white. (Recent research by the Pew Research Center) Publicly available research dating back as far as 2015 indicates that white males are not the primary consumers of video game content, so what’s the deal? Why are female, BIPOC, and LGBTQIA+ communities so underrepresented in the industry workforce?
There are a variety of contributing factors to the lack of gender diversity. Female employment is higher than in the past, but working in a male-dominated industry presents unique performance stress for those who do end up getting the job. Couple that with archaic industry sexism, specifically toward female gamers, and you end up with lower retention levels for female game professionals. There is also a noticeable absence of diversity in executive positions, and many studios have not publicly outlined clear hiring objectives that aim to expand diversity across all experience and leadership levels.
Game credits also present significant challenges in diverse representation. While game crediting is a prominent matter of contention, a lesser-known caveat involves females being present but not actually being seen. If an individual changes their last name after marriage, developers often opt to remove them from game credits rather than going through the process of updating them. It’s a clearly damaging practice to both the individual and the industry.
Females are not the only demographic lacking in diversity- BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities are also heavily underrepresented. A lack of ethnic diversity is well-documented even in games themselves. Racial representation in games is only as diverse as the people who make them; non-white video game characters have a history of conforming to prejudice and bias that excludes the very people they are supposed to represent. Without input from the BIPOC community via employment, studio leadership can remain oblivious to this kind of hurtful misrepresentation.
The LGBTQIA+ community faces unique challenges. Fear of retaliation or exclusion based on sexual orientation and gender identity is already common across all industries despite EEOC protections. Industry data polls are also sorely lacking in the ability to accurately categorize the LGBTQIA+ workforce without conflating sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. Without clear, accurate data as a starting point, the industry can’t possibly make data-driven, inclusive hiring decisions that are more inclusive.
So what’s the solution? Where do we go from here?
Clear signals from the industry leaders that inclusion and diversity are core values will help attract and maintain a more diverse workforce. But virtue signaling is not enough.
Prioritization by industry leadership is the first step. Only 24% of studios invested moderate resources into diversity initiatives in 2020. And guess what? Out of those studios that did invest those resources, 96% reported at least moderately successful results and improvements to company culture. That’s huge! Studios should make it a priority to allocate resources to these initiatives.
A concerted, deliberate push to hire and promote people of color, females, and LGBTQIA+ individuals is also necessary. This policy shift has to be made at an executive level. Accurate, modern, and inclusive data needs to be acquired to drive industry decision-making.
Even more important than resource allocation and diverse hiring policies is direct, consistent, company-wide communication directly from leadership. Many leaders may believe that just being socially-conscious and forward-thinking individuals will in turn result in a more socially-conscious studio or work environment. But that’s simply not the case. Industry leadership needs to be willing to have open, candid conversations about hostility toward women in games, their own potential lack of education about gender identity/pronouns and sexual orientation, and unconscious bias towards people of color in video game character development. Clear, visible policies need to be communicated and education opportunities need to be provided and encouraged at all levels to build trust with under-represented communities.
If current statistics and trends have shown us anything, it is that these initiatives are happening much too slowly at too small of a scale. Fortunately, the movement has started, and it seems to be gaining traction. We just have to keep pushing forward, challenging our norms, and pressuring our leaders to do better.
“Diversity isn’t a nicety; it’s a necessity if the industry is going to grow, thrive and truly reflect the tens of millions of people who play games every day in this country. A diverse industry that draws on myriad cultures, lifestyles and experiences will lead to more creative and inclusive games that capture the imagination of players and drive our sector forward.”